HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Smoke, mirrors, rumor, innuendo and uncertainty have ruled the day since free agency began for the biggest names on the market.
With Carmelo Anthony mulling over max offers from at least two teams (the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks) and LeBron James sorting through possible face-to-face presentations from hand-picked finalists, all we know for sure one week into this process is that no one knows for certain if the incumbent teams will hold on to their prized superstars.
The Lakers have given Anthony something to think about and have positioned themselves as the main threat to the Knicks. Rumblings that James is seriously considering a return to his Cleveland roots with the Cavaliers is a narrative that is simply too juicy to ignore, no matter if those rumblings are legitimate or not.
Complicating matters for guys like Heat boss Pat Riley and his Knicks counterpart Phil Jackson is the lack of activity on the part of these superstars one way or another.
Riley cannot move on anything without knowing for sure what LeBron, the linchpin of the Heat’s revitalization blueprint, plans to do. And that leaves Chris Bosh vulnerable to the sales pitch of a team like the Houston Rockets, who have reportedly put themselves in a position to play the role of spoiler with their Plan B options if they miss out on Carmelo (who visited the Rockets on his national recruiting tour last week) and LeBron.
With Omer Asik traded and Dwight Howard in need of an elite power forward to play alongside him, the Rockets have turned their attention to trying to pry Bosh away from the Heat while there is continued uncertainty about what LeBron will do. It makes perfect sense for the Rockets — divide and conquer while strengthening their own ranks with yet another All-Star piece .
The dots connect ultimately back to both Carmelo and LeBron in almost every theoretical scenario.
What if the Heat’s Big Three of LeBron, Bosh and Dwyane Wade went into the process thinking they’d work in concert and allow Riley and the Heat the time needed to work out the details, only to have things change dramatically when it became clear that their individual salary demands and future plans don’t coincide with what the Heat had in mind?
What if the Knicks’ ace in the hole with ‘Melo — that max offer of $129 million that they could offer that no one else could — isn’t enough to keep the face of that franchise in the fold?
That proposed Big Four pipe dream Riley spoke of the week before free agency began appears to be just that for Heat fans, an absolute pipe dream. If the machinations of the past few days aren’t just the hype that comes along with the process for superstars in free agency, keeping the Big Three together could wind up being the real pipe dream.
The fact is, as much as these decisions are about the superstar conglomerates necessary to compete for championships, these superstars are making individual financial decisions that could alter the landscape of the league.
If Carmelo decides to join Kobe Bryant in L.A., and the Lakers put any semblance of a decent supporting cast around them, the Lakers suddenly become a factor again in the rugged Western Conference. And keep in mind, the Lakers and Knicks are the only teams capable of offering Carmelo max money (four years and $97 million in L.A. and five years, $129 million from the Knicks) without making any other roster moves.
If LeBron decides to bolt from Miami and take his talents back to say Cleveland, then he lends instant powerhouse credibility to the mismatching parts (starting with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and the No. 1 overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins) assembled in the wake of his departure via free agency four years ago.
This growing notion that Anthony is choosing between the Lakers and Knicks means that the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Rockets, Phoenix Suns and anyone else positioning themselves as a suitor for the biggest name(s) on the free-agent market would be wise to move on to their alternate plans.
Finding elite role players willing to sacrifice their monster paydays for the greater good in Miami proved more difficult than probably even Riley imagined, given the uncertainty surrounding James, whose commitment might have sped up the process for Riley and the Heat in regards to their pursuit of guys like Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat.
They have both agreed to terms on lucrative deals to remain with their respective teams, the Toronto Raptors for Lowry and Washington Wizards for Gortat.
And therein lies the true consequence of kissing and then rolling the free agent dice in today’s NBA.
You can wait for the smoke to clear from the first crazy week of the process and then see where you stand with the impact players, a reasonably sound plan for those operating from a position of power. Then again, as we’ve learned from the smoke, mirrors and innuendo of this weekend alone, it only produces uncertainty until either Carmelo or LeBron makes a decision … or at least gives us a hint as to what they plan to do.